It’s that time of the year again: Summer has drawn to a close and September is in full swing which can only mean that fashion week has (finally) arrived on our doorsteps.
Only a few days ago, the New York Tommy Hilfiger Show in collaboration with Zendaya blessed our feeds. Tommy X Zendaya showcased yet another wave of iconic garments and delivered a performance that whisks you back to the glorious ’70s. Situated at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem- a place where brilliant artists such as (to name a few) Lauryn Hill, Aretha Franklin, and Etta James have performed- the show was a salute of pure genius.
A night filled with swagger and sensation saw the cast (the majority being African American) prance their way across the floor with sexual prowess. Zendaya’s pieces display a homage to the hip-hugging, bell-bottomed, polka dot prints of the 70’s era. She is a true girl boss.
The stream of African American models strutting in triumph, accompanied by an orchestra of black artists blaring out iconic tunes from the likes of Aretha Franklin to Curtis Mayfield is nothing short of iconic. Honed by Hilfiger himself as “[something] you’ve never seen before in your life”, the show saw an eclectic mix of diversity and positive vibes in its wake.
So how has Hilfiger managed to avoid the label of cultural appropriation whilst simultaneously creating a brand that thrives on African American heritage? Let’s take a trip down memory lane. Since the early 1990s, Tommy Hilfiger’s early relationship to hip hop music has popularised his clothes into statement pieces that portray a flair of effortlessly cool, baggy yet chic embroidered garments that are so rife in popular culture.
On par with countless other brands from the time like Cross Colours (who claimed to be a line for “product without prejudice”), Pelle Pelle, Karl Kani etc, one thing that distinguished Tommy Hilfiger from these brands and their relationship with hip hop culture, was the fact that Hilfiger himself is - unlike the other designers- the stereotypical polarised opposite: white, male and upper classed elite.
Despite this, the brand image Tommy Hilfiger portrays is one of an apolitical, positive, multi-cultural youthfulness, allowing him to evade the criticisms of underlying racial tension and appropriated culture of African American legacy in his fashion shows.
Tommy Hilfiger has, by sticking with a theme of hip hop and working alongside (at the time) marginalized black artists in the ’90s, leaned on their work for inspiration, hence the baggy style, casual-chic, light washed denim fits laced with simple, bold embroidered prints.
By creating an iconic brand name that cannot be tarnished in the wake of today’s (slow but steady) diversification in the fashion industry, he has transformed Hilfiger into something simple, special, yet still spectacular. It’s safe to say Hilfiger is winning compared to other brands trying to resurface against the lack of diversity in their work.
Everything about the Tommy X Zendaya show portrays a space of dynamic unity. A space to elevate, empower and encourage diversity. Perhaps the industry is evolving, perhaps it’s not. Either way, it sure as hell shows how hip hop has fabricated a pathway into fashion.